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tv   Book Discussion on The Adventures of Henry Thoreau  CSPAN  May 27, 2014 8:00pm-8:52pm EDT

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[applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2014] [captioning performed by national captioning institute] >> there is another panel after this. >> malcolm gladwell is the author.
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>> when you write, you cannot sit down to write a best-seller. in fact you should not thing about that issue at all when you sit town to write. what you should do when you sit down to write is write what you find interesting and follow your own curiosity. when i was writing tipple point i never tried to imagine how the book would sell. i wanted to write something that was cool and i was interested in and my friend would read that my mother would like. >> read more of the conversation and other interviews from our book notes and q and a programs. now available as a father's day gift at your favorite book seller. michael sims is up next with
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"the adventures of henry thoreau: a young man's unlikely path to walden pond." he spoke in massachusetts at the concord bookstore for a little less than an hour. the bottom line is i like to type. thank you very much come forking out today and i was wondering if it was going to rain on me and i was thinking i should not be worried about that because it is henry david thoreau and you ask not worry about things. my wife loves to tweak because she was tolerated henry david thoreau -- she has taken to tweet his quotes. she says bewear of enterprises unless it is a frilly skirt you had your eye on. had he not returned to conquer
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because i was writing the book and want today keep the 19th century in my head. where was emersed in the era and had the three demissional view of the day that henry moved into cabin on the wall of my desk and was surrounded by the atmosphere of the mid-19th century. i was afraid to come here because i was afraid a parking lot would ruin it. i would like to pronounce this names. locals and scholars and there are no family members now but they know he was named henry david thoreau and they acted on the first sill bill.
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his family was from new jersey and only two generations of the pronunciation of s thorough and changed it here. if we learned tomorrow that enest hemmingway pronounced his name differently we would not say it differently. having spent up close time with him for two years i tend to call him henry. and the book is a close-up personal almost novel like look at his years. and i don't mean fiction but detailed and primary. throughout the book i call him henry and i will fall into that. i need to start with a quotation
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from ralph waldo emerson who said of his old friend: he was free and strange. and the one thing i keep coming back to was henry was very strange and that was the exciting part of this for me: the personality and character and getting that on to paper. it felt like where was wrestling five guerillas on to one page but it works. a lot of people come out on one side or the other or feel they ought it. they become a henry david thoreau fan or critic and he was a fraud in some way. i felt no reason to do that. i don't have an ax to ground. i am interested in the reality. he was an important writer in my teen years and influential in my
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life but i am not into fanfare and i am not into bashing him. a great deal of his life was about alternative ways of saying fun. there is a huge amount on superficial and overall year long period and daily effort of fun in the researching and writing of the book. henry was a paradox. it is what makes him poignant to read about. the book is half joyful and hal melancholy and he was a joy to write about it. he can be very funny knowing he was. for me as a writer and you as reader he was funny in ways he wasn't aware of which is more
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interesting to write about. in my story because i don't have to cover his entire life and trudge from significant accomplishment to significant accomplishment i am able to zoom in and focus on thing so i don't play prophet and look ahead or analyze or critique. i try to convey the story as much as i can. i am writing into third person voice and in and out of the mind's of his wife, emerson and two or three of the children in the school ran by john and his brother. it made it feel like a busy little movie to do. i kept saying scene with a friend instead of chapter and he said are you writing a movie or
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book and i said i found so much fun with texture it feels like a movie at times because there was so much dialogue and across town someone else would be writing a letter with their experience of the same event and there would be a news story telling about the weather and the famous people there. so a lot of tecture and dialogue and detail that comes alive in a way that captured by imagination. i love biography and i read them constantly and occasionally i get frustrated with them because they seem to forget these people didn't know they would amount to something or anyone would be pouring over their letters and diaries 150 years later or they would have been more discreet definitely. and you can tell when writers as
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you do when researching literature that writers reach a certain point when they think they have become important or signed to donate papers their correspondence gets more quite. there was none of that. a lot of people participating in a gathering and going home and saying i am sure he means well but he is an idiot. i kept reminding myself these people didn't know if they would get through there day and live until tomorrow. they had no glimpse of being important. i wanted to include something i think that disappears from
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biographical writing which is what keeps us going: suspense. if you don't know the details about his life you will be surprised every involve pages because there is so much more than when i encountered him in my high school. and i am not critiquing that but a lot of times like in the norton literature book you are presented the work but you expected to pat the marble bust of the icon. i didn't want to dust off the icon. i wanted to try to find henry before he was henry david thoreau or the patron saint of environmentalism and civil liberties and certainly the men who best expressed i think for the 19th century the sense of how do you live a life in which you have self respect in a sense of worth and you have your own
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direction but you are participating in the world at the same time. i think no one else in the era expressed all of those things so well. i was working on the proposal for a different book that didn't come to path. when i was reading the diaries of peabody hawthorn who married nathanial hawthorne. and i bring the hawthornes in because they know henry well. i start with them the day they wanted to conquer. they offer a different few of emerson and come in after the story has been going for a while. and always because they are deeply in love. they are absolutely warm and out of focus in love with each other. and that contrast with henry's lonely life where he keeps
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having a crush on one girl after another and nothing come of it. and he was a man whose emerson ma maids said if he encountered a woman he would blush. so the contrast added emotional death and a different point of view also as a new character coming in. i was reading the diary and came across a screen that is of no historical significance and no literary importance but it is a wonderful human moment that brought them to life in ways i had not thought of that. i will read a couple paragraphs from the book that is the rul of
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encountering this seen in her diary and researching and piecing others together. in the winter of 1842-43 was with a cold difficult time in concord with the temperatures at the lowest in memory. they raced into winter like children and the firs storm found them east of the square where cut stocks laid buried under the snow. the newly weds slid down the hills and the oak trees surrounded them on all sides. the concord currant froze in the winter after flooding lowlands providing a surface for skating. cify liked to run on the ice instead of skating. they saw other skaters always boys or young men.
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few women skated. concord women were slow to follow the example of skating. henry and emerson joined hawthorne for a skating party. at home on the ice, henry led the way with energy that was impressive and umgamely. as if esstatic he said he was doing dances and leaps. she found it slightly embarrassing. second in line was hawthorne appearing to her eyes like a greek statue. and then emerson tilting forward at the raise until his top half
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was horizontal as if he napped on the air itself. soon he was tired and came inand is said her husband reminded him of a tiger whose energy might be the death of a mortal himself. he is an ajax. who can cope with him? thus became the surgery of mine. the other book died at home and there is a half written were posal in my desk at home -- proposal -- i those title because he wasn't a thinker sitting with his chin in his palm. he led a busy life and in this book that ends in 1846, halfway through this time at walden, he
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founded a progressive private school with his brother and fought a forest fire he himself started, he faced his own illness and the deaths of his loved ones, one who dies in his arms, he falls in love and asks the same girl to marry him and was rejected that her brother had two months earlier and was rejected as well. he has a traumatic spiritual revelation atop a mount in maine and spends a small and unimportant night in jail until he makes it important boy being the person who wrote best about the concept of civil disobeadance and creating about 25% fictional autobiographical eye as a narrator.
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it was fun to re-create the night from jail for example and what he heard from the window and i mean mine -- fine things he said in his journal. and he spent time also in stat n island as a tutor for emerson children. and that was fun re-creating what that was like. the crowds and driven by servants and work men with dragging blocks of ice down to basement level oyster bars and the wild stray pigs that acted
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like they found and owned the island. getting the details was as much fun as i ever had sitting at my desk. it kept coming back to his personality and character. it was fascinating trying to wrestling it on the page. and personality and character are still a mystery despite the genome project. and how he got to be the way he was and how he influenced others in that weird way where one person can be a catalyst in another person's life. that was fun to track down and at the same time what did the cabin smell like, what did it feel like warwick walking down the street in concord and then the 1840 presidential election.
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the first grassroot, rowdy campaign of american history that changed everything because it was entirely about style and not substance. and they presented each of the -- where call them characters -- each of the presidenti presidenti presidential candidates and there was a fiction version of one and also the other and they went head-to-head and it had nothing to do with one other. a tradition that continues today. and getting the details was exciti exciting. and i am sure you know heavy wasn't a hermit. he was caught up in the town and lived most of his life in concord as you know. he admitted what we considered
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homeopathic conversations of gossip was as relaxing as the wrestling of leaves and peeping of frogs. you realize because his family had a bording house that was rowdy and becausey all of the time. the captain at walden was a study & hangout where he could get peace and quite without hearing the piano or people going up and down the stairs. he said he was at his family's house every day or two and there is the classic line of who did his laundry. he helped build the house that the family lived in and was there to keep it running and work on it every few days. he was the handiest writer in the history of literature as far as i can tell.
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we are not generally the most useful people in the world and henry could fix anything and make anything and i am stibragg about changing a doorknob six years later. he was very anchored in the real world and i will read a description of him in his college years. not all of his classmates anyhow the 5-7 local with light brown hair. sloping shoulders with long arms and short legs. some recognized him by his unusual stride that reminded him of an indian. he took a shortcut whenever possible sometimes walking with his hands behind his bang or clenched in a first at his side. he kept to himself and students noticet his expression with his eyes on the ground walking
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distracted looking like he was looking for something. he tended to dominate a conversation cern turning it into a monologue. a view friends witnessed his love of natural history and his tendency to notice animals more than people and saw the playful side and his response to nature and love of kittens and his obsession with indians and his fondness for rural characters. friends knew at 16 because of his practical side he built his own boat and before approving his education at harvard his family thought of apresentancig
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him for being a wood maker. there is a great deal of thinking about the grand ideals behind the reality that we see and everything we see is an image around us and everything we see is lessened and symbolic: at the point that henry is interested less in the bird and paying attention to the blue jay in front of him as an individual creature that had history and experiences that day and was just as real as he was, i think that at point he became a little less interesting to emerson and more us. he was reading darwin and the
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voyage of the beagle and he was primed and ready when the origin of species and could see the earth was older than the ancient shepherd realized which isn't surprising. the book ends in 1846 halfway through the walden years, it includes a moment when he is pluming the depths of the lakes. he goes out on the ice and drills hundreds of holes and measures and does a detailed cross section, which appears in many books about him, every corner and every cove and measured it and before that it had been described as bottomless as so many ponds are. and he said it is this many feet. those were the ways he was becoming more and more attuned
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to the world around him. there is one more point and then i will read two paragraphs from the book that i think will give you an example on my i am so excit excited about this book. one point is something that disappears and that is the role of the women in his life. they start to vanish. an example is the 1970 play the night thoreau spent in jail. they did research and then played fast and loose. henry had two sisters that were bright and wrote letters in lattla latin and they were an important
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influence. his mother and sister were founders of one of the many anti-slavery efforts. women were leading the white role in battling slavery. and all of that is take away with that play. they take all of libby arguments away and put them in henry's mouth. the sisters vanish. ellen, the girl both boys proposed to, was never a student of theirs, but in the play she is a bimbo student. and his mother who was tough and out spoken becomes a nag. it was interesting to see this happening and i don't know that scholars are erasing it, i mean in various works of art and culture and earlier biographies
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there was a tend to wash that aside. so part of the fun was bringing so many female characters back into it. it makes me think of the play guess who is coming to dinner and the point of that is black men and white men are equal but the women were considered irrelevant. and one last thing, as you know, the 19th century was a time of rampid illness. there wasn't a lot of protection against wounds other than the darwin one that can be fine on the bottom line but tragic on the personal bases like it is now. as we know now, every work of art or attempt at a work of art and i am going to presume in this raw definition to include
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biographical writing is a form of self-portrait and whatever you are creating at whatever level you are in part presenting when you are at that time. i have noticed non-fiction writers are drawn to topics in a certain way from a certain angle at a certain time in their lives. this was happening with me during this book. while i was writing and researching this book everything was going on. my niece was killed in a tornado. adult niece. i went down to tennessee and in response to that death my 85-year-old brother had a severe massive stroke. so i spend a month in tennessee take care of her. the week she had the stroke we learn my wife is pregnant with my first child so the odds are
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those trains will pass and my child won't meet my brother which is what happened. there were times when she would go to sleep and i would be holding her left hand and this was in her last couple weeks of life and i am balancing a mack book air typing with just one hand. and then my son was born a few months later. i have photos. i maybe the most pathetically doting father every. which is sad i am sure. i would be holding the newborn son and sitting there in the dark typing. i realized they hands had connected the generation and the circle of life became more and more real and writing became my way of responding to all of it in the course of doing the book.
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on that note with that background, the idea of the circle of life, the risk of loss that companies loving anyone, adult or child, i want to close this talk with a very brief passage from another scene in my book that is of absolutely no historical significance and not important. henry's time period was great fun to write about because so many things were happening then that laid the ground work for what was our era. there was the telegraph and people created the first form of movement that didn't involve animals or wind which is trains. everything was changing and henry was fascinating with all of these. and then there was a development that came along at the same time in the middle of my story that
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is my favorite invention from history. photography. there was nothing before that was an accurate record of anyone you knew or cared about. when you moved to england, no picture or anything. just a letter once a year. emerson's 5-year-old son waldo dies in the story. he is there for a short time and i think these moments and image sums up for me the excitement of trying to bring back to past. the feel and sense of it and they were just as real as we were and that is why where wanted to do that with concord
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and henry david thoreau and this is the aftermath of the death of the son of emerson. this brilliant invention which was announced in 1939 at meeting of the academy of sciences in paris was being touted as a machine to preserve time. it a positive image was produced directly on a silver copper coated plate. the result had to be isolated under glass inside a frame or folding case and required slow exposu
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exposures. the previous autumn had been unable to talk waldo to sit still long enough for the box to capture his image. only john was able to. waldo dressed in a girlish smock set in a wooden arm chair with his arms folded in his lap. after his death, they could gaze at a frame oval type of him. his hair combed sideways and his thin lips like this brother remained grave and still. like the unrecord movements of people strolling paris boulevard in the early photographs, laughter was invisible to
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cameras. even smiles faded as the shutter waited for enough light to seep in. distilling images into the portrait drawn with light, but the fleeding jesters were lost. thank you. [ applause ] >> if i were a better person i would know what time it was and how much time we have for questions and answers. we are good. the q and a is my favorite part. i had a few ideas what i was doing but i kept wondering off. i encourage you to say anything that strikes you as interesting or ask a question you have
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always wondered and i will prove i don't know the answer but i will pretend to. yes, sir? >> this is a terrific talk. i thought i knew a lot about him until i read this and now i know more. one of the episodes you describe about it death of john from lock jaw, when you said this to his sister or somebody, that john became to feel something calm passover him and i looked at the print and was trying to find the source of that. but do you have any more information about -- because we know a lot about henry and his spiritual journey but john was more influenced by his aunt
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maybe? >> that is a good point. i had so many footnotes and it is possible i snipped the source for that and it will reappear in the paper back. i do have the source and i can tell you the background. henry was the questioner and the one always being aggressively unsure of the world and john was more traditional, calm and considered a gentlemen and a clean-minded gentlemen. he loved the girls of the village and didn't want to hear negative comments boy the other boys. -- by the -- he was more traditional and he wrote some versus about dying and death which you know are a romantic religious teenager might do and they are quoted in this ulogy, a
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couple versus from that. he was much more traditional in other ways and the handsome and poplar brother. he was patient with everyone. he didn't have the traits that make henry so much more interesting to write about. john is the second most important character in the second half of the book because their relationship as brothers was interesting but he was more traditional and religious in that way. henry abandoned and was aggressive toward organized religion while still considering there was a god behind humanity and nature and the design of the world. he had a sophisticated view of intelligence design. >> i thought it humor that john
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said you talk to me because i am a good listener. >> john was considered so light hearted and easy going and always wanted to make everyone feel good that he was joking. he was dying right there and lock jaw was beginning to arch and do this and there is an ancient latin term for the sarcastic grill that is on those who die of lock jaw which was named tetanus a new years after this period and john was the moment his muscles were locking up were saying sit down and talk about poetry because i cannot interrupt you anymore. it was sweet and poignant and it
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got to me. i had a brother die on me as well. yes, ma'am? >> i know that he wrote civil disobedience because he was rebelling against taxes and i thought where would he be now because they say that all different kinds of people quote him when they take them as their own -- >> he is quoted by democrats, republicans, libitarians, all kind of people, which is great fun. it isn't like they were misrepresenting him but he is like shakespeare and he said so many things so well that you can pull up many wonderful phrases. he paid his school tax, he paid his road tax, very much one to participate in the neighborhood. but he stopped paying for a
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while his pole tax part of which went to supporting the larger federal government and would then participate in supporting and still getting along with the slave holding southern states and the mexican war that more progressive people considered an unnecessary act on our part. 150 years ago so they have nothing in common with us but we still say our. he is the kind of person that was so involved and however much time he spent in walden or maine he spent little time in the wilderness. he would talk about camping trips where they would buy food in the village and henry would read in to the camp fire to read it stained newspaper because he was that desperate to always
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read something. so i think he would be caught up in everything and he might be the most sarcastic person on twitter. the rules of the civil disobedience essay are in the book because of the period when he goes to jail. it makes it interesting what a fabulous writer he was. other people had gone to jail and wrote about their experience for not paying taxes. he was, as often, imitative and he reminds me of picasso because of that. he was gifted and could do anything. but he approached each new period of work and life like a giant creating ameme bah that
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would create and gobble up everything. henry was like that. he took emerson like that. he worked his way through -- i started to see the very hungry caterpillar because of my one-year-old. >> there is the deepest you will get. >> the origins of that show -- he only spent one night in jail and when his taxes were paid he refused to leave and the jailer said if you don't leave i will throw you out. so he is beginning to think of ways to magfiify things in a symboling jester. he was the most amazing writer. and hemmingway said all of
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literature goes back to huckle fin but i think a vast majority goes back to walden. you see everything moving toward and then you have to cross the bridge. you cannot ignore it. pardon me. yes, sir? >> as a writer, do you have a potential ritual you use before you get into the zone and sit down and do it? >> extensive denial. snacks. errands. vaguely work-related e-mails. a lunch with someone i have done work but we don't disclose work. the pest best periods are when i get up first thing in the morning and go straight to work.
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which isn't always possible with a one-year-old. i am a morning person and my brain feels like it is getting overworked by 2 p.m. and i have to survive as a small business man and plan ahead. i edit a series of anthologies i created. i just signed a new book and when i sign a non-fiction one i sign an anthology contract so that gets rid of the overlap. i mention that because there are ways to make the difficult part of the career work. i got tired of articles so i
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invented the series to make up that money. so the ritual is to -- it is a henry david thoreau thing. he has a line that says i will call this thing called money what has to be exchanged for it. so in order to think and have time to write and throw away a quarter of what i write i needed to keep my bills small and have a low overhead operation because it requires time to think and breathe. that is more than you ask and less than you needed. i am sorry. the risk of free association.
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>> you understand if you ask a question i will free associate more. >> [inaudible question] >> not that i know of. she came to town in 1840 when i believe she was nine. she had a crush on him and worked him into one of her later novels. he is a character in one of ther novels. and i have to mention, you have given me the opportunity to quote what i think is best insult of the 19th century. she had a crush on him but she was a clear eyed wonderful brain and elcot made this comment. in that time they had the neck beard that you would shave down to here and have all of this.
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it makes you like as if you have been decapitated and your head has been set on a ledge. it got to be known that henry thought it was attractive and she said as well as i can remember, very close to, me thinks henry's chin whiskers will protect his virtue in perpetuity. now it will be shortened to ain't no body going to kiss that. >> she had a way with words. >> she did have a way with words, yes. >> at the risk of changing the subject can you tell us what the timeline is for the next work? >> part of again, the idea that you want to write stuff you you are excited about but you have
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to survive in the real word. a lot is timing. i will think about i want to do a project and i am thinking i want to write about victorian era and i know this project really well and so because of that i thought well if i am going to do a sherlock holmesbook now would be a good time. my editor is on board and they are excited. the timeline needs to be quick because i am trying to do substance book that is medium size and reconstructed in a narrative form of the real
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people in what inspired him to create sherlock holmes. part of the deal is i finish the book quickly. my goal is christmas but i have until next spring on the contract and publishers are dangerously accommodating. my goal is christmas so the book comes out in the fall. there is a wave and crest and right now i checked the real world business side of me checked to see where all of the tv shows are being and are there new movies? yes. and a bunch of things like this. >> it comes out 2016 is next batch of the show on channel 2. >> i like the version that cumberbund bender snatch is my
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favorite variation on his name. and i will also mention about timing again. henry david thoreau's bicentennial of his birth is next year. so i mean you have to arrive in the real world -- survive -- if you want to pay your bills so you have to figure out the timing. i have no idea how long i have been talking. it could be monday afternoon. you can go on a little longer. >> how long for the garret types? >> it varied but it was so long everybody was blurirblurry. they would get the kids to sit there and they would have to go
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like this for nine minutes. it was changing quickly at the time but the passage i read about the death of emerson's son w w waldo that wasn't three years before the invention of the garret type so it was moving quickly. >> i was wondering how you adjust the talk for this audience here in concord versus other audiences? >> that is a great question. i wanted to give a reasonable amount of substance to this one. i didn't change the core of the talk. but less intro and a few obvious things about the setting that
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